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The term and concept
“food-shed” is derived from the more familiar word “watershed.” In the arid southwest where “agua es vida”
the main New Mexican watershed traverses the Rio Grande Valley rift from
southern New Mexico to southern Colorado. Traditional acequias and other
irrigation methods water greenbelt lands that produce food throughout the rift
valley. The Co-op’s Food-shed project adds ancient agricultural regions,
including the Mimbres Valley in the Gila, the White Mountain area and other
mountain valleys for a regional food-shed that encompasses a 300 mile radius
Farmers and producers throughout this region can either sell
their products direct to Co-op locations or utilize the services of our Cooperative Distribution Center’s
(CDC) warehouse to expand their markets and save on gas and transport costs.
The CDC also offers local producers post harvest and production cooler/freezer
space and storage.
Building A Regional Food-Shed
The term food-shed describes the flow of food from the area where it is grown and processed to the place where it is consumed. Recently, the term has been revived as a way of looking at and thinking about local and sustainable food systems. The current food system is dependent upon the unsustainable economics of transporting the majority of our food very long distances. Building a more sustainable system will decrease our region’s dependence on the long distance transport of food reducing our region’s carbon footprint. This will require that we increase regional food production and distribution.
Our experience and research indicates a steady reduction in the wholesale (retail store) market for local products. Many local stores have closed and the market has become dominated by large national retailers. The “industrialization” of many natural and organic products has brought lower pricing reducing the market value of local products. This reduction in market size and product value has contributed to the decline of regional producers that we have experienced over the past several years. A more sustainable food system for our regional food-shed requires that we grow the market for regional products as we work to increase the amount of regionally produced goods.
La Montanita began distribution of regionally produced products in the spring of 2006. Two drivers and one truck delivered over $100,000 of meat, eggs, milk and produce from about 30 producers during this first year of operation. La Montanita engaged Whole Foods, Raley’s, Cid’s, Los Poblanos and others to build the wholesale market for this product. In January of 2007 La Montanita opened its Cooperative Distribution Center (CDC) on Columbia Drive in Albuquerque. This facility provides 3,000 square feet of refrigerated storage, 1,000 square feet of frozen and 6,000 square feet of dry storage. This facility and its staff provide the foundation for our work with regional producers to build a more sustainable food-shed in our region
La Montanita has enjoyed success in increasing consumer awareness of the value of purchasing locally produced food and paying more for local than food nationally distributed. We understand that our regional farmers and producers must prosper to sustain their efforts and that regionally grown and produced food will often cost more than food grown in California, Mexico or elsewhere.
The CDC staff is working with regional growers and producers and retail buyers towards reaching a balance between paying the producer as much as possible while maintaining a retail price in the stores that provides value to consumers. This work is ongoing and we must continue to raise consumer awareness in the value of purchasing local. While we have been able to raise local product pricing from the “California Market Price,” our pricing to farmers and producers remains under what might be achieved at local farmers’ and growers’ markets.